tv The Communicators Hackathon in Congress CSPAN May 7, 2018 8:00am-8:30am EDT
watching the tv on top nonfiction books and authors. television for serious readers. .. something i called a congressional hackathon. first of all, mr. dwyer, what do you do for a living? >> guest: i work for democratic whip steny hoyer, i've been with him 15 years, and i sort of handle both technology policy but also digital strategy for all house democrats. >> host: where did you come up with the idea for a congressional hackathon? >> guest: the first was back in
2011, and the idea was to bring technologists from technology companies but also civic activists and have a big, open event and invite everyone into the capitol. we had lots of pizza, and we stayed late that first one and have an open format where we can just brainstorm and try to work constructively towards improving congress. >> host: so what kind of ideas came out of that first one? >> guest: the first one, there was a big focus on releasing all legislative data in a machine-readable book format. that has been a big push throughout government from state and local all the way up to the federal, and it was really a problem in the legislative branch where we had all this data on particular web sites, but other web sites couldn't access that data. and as a result of that hackathon and the efforts of many other people that work at the library of congress and many other leg branch agencies, it took a couple of years, but it has enabled lots of apps and web sites that use legislative data like brills and members of
congress -- bills and members of congress, they use them in interesting and innovative ways. >> host: is this all accessible to the american public? >> guest: yes. this entire event and the bulk data is completely open and free to the american public. >> host: so i heard a lot of talk throughout this seminar today about open, transparent, transforming. what's the transforming part of this? >> guest: well, in the legislative branch -- hike in a lot of government -- we don't move as fast as business. so we have a lot of catching up to do. so it's actually not that hard. i find it exciting. there's lots of low hanging fruits, lots of changes you can make modeled off of changes that happened in private industry to make government and congress much more efficient and bring it up to speed. and so it is transformative. when you digitalize processes like majority leader mccarthy and steny hoyer talked about, digitalizing case work, for example, that not only saves staff time, but it makes it more
user-friendly and available for the prick. when you ding -- for the public. >> host: of course, we're living in a time of cybersecurity and hacking and privacy. how do you address those issues? >> guest: security's always a concern. but i like to think of security as just always there no matter what you do, but that shouldn't stop you from digitalizing things and from improving and modernizing systems. no matter what you do, you have to always consider security as a major part of it. i see it as a check box, not a barrier. >> host: i think it was majority leader mccarthy who said the u.s. spends about $80 billion a year in technology. if you could reassess that spending, how would you spend that? >> guest: i think we've got to change the way we spend it. i think a lot of it is spent on legacy systems, very old, outdated systems that are insecure and costly to maintain. the problem is in order to update the systems, it takes money up front.
so i think it's an area that my boss, democratic whip steny hoyer, and at the end mr. mccarthy talked about. they talked about a way to invest in upgrading these systems which, you know, if we spend that money on the up front to upgrade the systems, it will pay dividends is and save costs in the long run. >> host: how has this changed the ability of congress to put its proceedings on facebook or on new type of platform? >> guest: another major accomplishment of an early hackathon was there was a big push to not only do absolutely everything on web video, but also to standardize the web video. the committees all broadcast in different formats and different ways and inconsistently. well, that came out of the hackathon, and it became a part of the house rules where all committees have to have standardizedded video of all hearings and subhearings. >> host: what about the senate, are they on board with this? >> guest: there's a number of senate staff here today and have been at the hackathons.
we like to think we move faster in the house, but it's all in good fun, and they're engaged as well. >> host: what's been the role of the cloud? >> guest: the cloud is where we're all moving. private industry is already there, government's slowly moving there. there's great efficiencies and money to be saved by moving to the cloud. again, security is something that has to be worked through, and it is a concern when you go to the cloud, but it's not a barrier. >> host: steve dwyer, is congress becoming -- how many apps are available from congress right now? >> guest: you just heard, i gave a presentation on the app that our built which we're very proud of. i probably know of ten others all within the past ten years that have launched that are focused on congress, that are used by staff and members of congress. so just like in the private sector, apps are popping up everywhere, and it's making the place a better place to work. >> host: are you finding that the american public is responding to this electronic digital age? >> guest: absolutely. the public has never been more engaged. you saw one of the presenters
talked about the number of e-mails coming in to congress. it is far higher this year than in most -- the past couple years combined. so that shows the public is very engaged, and the public is speaking out loudly in all that's happening here in congress. >> host: is this an event where bipartisanship is very important? >> guest: absolutely. this is finish i'm a partisan staffer, i'm a democratic staffer, and i've worked on partisan issues, but i get a lot more satisfaction out of doing this work because it is entirely bipartisan. i've got great partners on the republican leadership side that help put together these hackathons, and it's really rewarding, and there is no partisanship here. we're all just working, we're all just technologists trying to improve congress and the institution of congress. >> host: steve dwyer, thank you very much. >> guest: thank you very much. >> in my business, being called a hack is not very great, you know? be r being a political hack is not so great at all. however, in your lexicon it is a
skill. it is an asset to have. this, i think, is one of the most exciting and important events that we host. what transpires here as the potential to transform congress and, therefore, the country and to some degree our democracy for years to come. i'med glad that it continues to be a truly bipartisan endeavor. i want to thank my cohost who i think will be here momentarily, majority leader kevin mccarthy. he's my friend. here he comes. and his staff for working closely with me and my staff on the previous hackathon event and today. and i want to thank and remember eric cantor who was the majority leader who was my partner at the original congressional hackathon back in 2011. kevin mccarthy, eric cantor and i care deeply about this great institution of congress and its ability to serve the american people. does it always operate perfectly?
it does not. but when compared to almost all the other parliamentary bodies around the world, it reflects very well the sentiments of the american people which sometimes are positive and sometimes not so positive, and we reflect those. but we work, in my opinion, in many respects to elevate and to deal with policies that are positive for our people. it's important that we take a step away from the partisan back and forth and find ways like this hackathon to come together to engage the public in a positive way to make congress more open and more transparent. the more the people know, the better our democracy will be. today we welcome dingingal innovators to the capitol to engage with members, staff and advocates. we can't predict what will emerge from the conversations you have today, but what we can be sure of is that great ideas will come together and inspire new and innovative projects both
inside and outside of congress. we've come a long way since the first hackathon when eric and i asked you how we could update the old thomas.gov web site n. the years since we've seen the release of open source legislative data and machine-readable formats for use by third party sites and the creation of a bipartisan modernization task force. we've also witnessed great change in the world of technology off capitol hill. with the launch of new technology tools and platforms that connect citizens with their leaders in a way never before imagined. now, i don't think i have to tell any of you that twitter is having some effect on our democracy. i won't ask you to raise your hand on whether that's positive or negative effect. but the truth is, and the
profound truth is, it is having a marked difference. here on the hill i've been working to bring, on bringing the democratic caucus up-to-date with the latest technology. i've continued to run the house democratic social media contest each summer. this year with representatives crowley and that can know, i've started an intensive digital training program that we call the digital academy. it will not surprise you that steve dwyer oversees all of that. we've graduated 50 staffers so far this year. my office continues to manage the house democrats' official resumé bank which is an innovative digital platform that allows anyone to enter and any current staffer to submit recommendations. it has already made a difference in improving the diversity of our house democratic staff. last spring my office launched whip watch 2.0, a major update to our popular app which has 5,000 active users including
members, staff and people off the hill who can use the app to follow live votes and the release of house floor information. if you have an interest, and i hope you do in the house, you ought to add whip watch to your phones and your other devices. all of these efforts, both bipartisan and within our respective parties, have the same goal; helping restore faith in government by making it more transparent, more accessible to those we serve and more effective. i've spoken at length in recent years about the need to renew america's faith in our government. as a force for solving problems and improving lives. new technologies afford those of us in congress a chance to do so in ways previously unimagined. as much as we're proud of the digital achievements of the past six years, they are but a small
step on the relentless march of progress. and relentless sounds like it's a long time, but those of you who deal with technology know that the steps are very, very quick and change very rapidly. and if you're not on top of it on a daily basis, you may well be out of date. i marvel at the thought of how new digital innovations will transform congress and the legislative process over the next several years. and i am excited to be a part of that ongoing transformation along with leader mccarthy. i'm also excited to see that our bipartisan legislation is expected to be signed into law this week. the modernizing government technology act. and i want to thank leader mccarthy for facilitating the passage of that bill in a timely fashion. this new law authorizes the creation of a fund to finance major systems upgrades across
the federal government. this work is long overdue. some agencies still use decades-old systems to handle sense ty information. sensitive information. this new fund operates in a way that is self-sustaining and promotes the adoption of the latest technologies. it is based on a model used in the private sector with great success. with upgraded systems, federal agencies will be better able to serve the american people more quickly, more safely, more accurately. this is especially critical during the time when cyber threats loom large and ever present. now, i hope the majority leader and i can continue our work and push for the full capitalization of this new fund so that critical systems upgrades can begin very soon. i look forward to hearing the new ideas to emerge from this year's hackathon, and i want to thank all of you for being here, for taking your time to help us
and to help your country and our citizens. to work to improve our great institution that is the united states congress. now, ladies and gentlemen, i don't know -- steve, are you introducing him, or shall i introduce him? ladies and gentlemen, i'll introduce you to a friend of mine. he's a republican, i'm a democrat, but we share an appalachian in common, i think probably with most of you, if not all of you. we're americans. that is the most compelling facet of our identity. we are americans. and as such, kevin and i believe we need to work together to make this institution work better for all americans. to lead them to have more trust and faith in the institution on which the quality of their lives in many respects relies.
and the success of their country. he is former leader in the california assembly, which is to say the seventh largest country in the world just about. so he has great experience legislatively before he got here. elected very shortly after he got here as the whip of the republican party and now the majority leader. the majority leader, the gentleman from california, kevin mccarthy. >> i want to see a government that's effective, efficient and accountable. doesn't matter who's able to bring it, but i think that helps all of america. there are opportunities that we have found really on a bipartisan basis that we created something called the innovation initiative that we only look at legislation that can help move towards that criteria. we, we started up in the last congress, we had about a year at it, we passed about 37 bills, 218 is the magic number to pass a bill on the floor.
do you know what the average vote of ours was? more than 320 votes. we didn't start and say let's write a bill that's just bipartisan, we said let's write a good bill that helps america become more effective and efficient. you know what happened? it's not partisan. it comes together, it's able to move. the very last bill president barack obama signed was the very first bill that was signed into law from this congress. and you know when he signed it? most bills the president signs down at the white house. he signed it in the capitol 20 minutes before he was no longer president. and you know what it was? it was my bill called the talent act. the talent act, if we're really going to be able to make government change and move in this new economy, i don't think we'll be as successful with the people that are already here. so why don't we create a peace corps for technology. why don't we have an ability that somebody can come from the tech community themselves and come into government for a year and help us. and that's really what we
created. so this week i met with the washington white house fellows, they're in all different agencies from nih to the v.a. to others trying to solve the problems, and they come at it from a different approach to help us to be able to learn to make it happen. steny hoyer just talked about the modernizing government act. nobody ran for congress campaigning on that, but it's probably one of the most essential things that will happen in a short time period. you know, we spend $80 billion a year on technology? 80% of that goes to legacy programs. so what we've done is we've allowed people to keep more of that money to modernize and move forward. this isstepny hoi -- this is steny hoyer and myself working on this. we eventually had to put it in the defense bill, but it's going to get signed, and that's going to make a fundamental difference. look, it doesn't matter where
you come from in life, there's an opportunity for you to help your government. a lot of people sit back and say did i start out to run for office? no. no teacher that ever had me ever thought i could win anything either. i grew up in the small town of bakersfield. i happen to be a republican, my family are all democrats. i got out of high school, no one was going to give me a scholarship, my folks don't have much must money, so i go to comy college. you know what i do? i give -- i meet this guy who i talk into taking me to the l.a. car auctionings. i start buying and selling cars to make my way through college. it's illegal but i don't know that. i'm just trying to be a entrepreneur. i'm going to go to san diego state and visit some friends there. so i go to the grocery store to cash my checks, i don't have much money. this is 1985.
the day before the lottery just started in california, so what do i do? i buy a lottery ticket, and i won the lottery. true story. the most you could win was $5,000. put yourself in my place. you're 18 years old, it's friday night, you just won $5,000 back in 1985 and you're ten minutes away from tijuana. [laughter] so i come back, i take my folks to dinner, give my brother and sister each $100, you know what i do in the rest of the money? i put it all into one stock because i believe in taking a risk. pretty successful, '80s were doing pretty well. the next semester i thought -- i wasn't going to go back to school, so i went to buy a franchise. no one would sell me one, i was too young. didn't stop me. i created my own business. it was a deli, it was like subway before subways. and there's three lessons i learned, you're the first to work, last to leave and last to be paid. i was pretty successful. i now have enough money to pay my whole way through college, i
wouldn't have to work, and no one in my family had a four-year degree yet. so i sell my business. and the local paper says if you want to be an intern with my local congressman in washington, d.c., you need to apply. i do not know this man, but i think he'd be lucky to have me. so i apply and he turns me down. but you know what the end of the story is? i now sit in the seat i couldn't intern for. only in america could that happen. everybody can be a part of making this government better. doesn't matter where you come from. there is an ability to make something different. there's an ability to make something stronger than we had before. and that's what i'm very committed about. -- excited about. so i want to get on with the show. i want to thank you for your work. we've got a bigger turnout than we've had before. i was sharing with the group last night that the first thing that we're out testing right now, this is how in my belief we
got to increase, the best work you do is helping a constituent. but if a constituent calls many me and wants help this today's era, i have to hang up the phone, get their address, mail them a release of information, they have to fill it out and mail it back to me before i can help. but ups can drop off a package they can sign, and everything's fine. we are now from last year to this year, we have electronic mail test that's going to into a number of congressional offices so pretty soon it will transform all the district offices at the same time. what happens? we become more efficient, we get better data, we understand where we can follow it, and we become more account bl to our own constituents. that's what i'm looking for, for the solutions you're going to bring us. thank you very much, and god bless. >> host: so during the congressional hackathon, several breakout groups occurred, and the leader of one of them is seamus kraft of the open gov foundation. mr. kraft, what was your group and what did you come up?
>> guest: our group is the moonshot group, how can we skip a generation and make congress go from a 19th century institution using 20th century tools to solve 21st century problems. we want to upgrade it. and what our group's working through today is a congressional digital service. if you look at the executive branch, what they've done with 18f and with the u.s. digital service to save is healthcare.gov, transform service delivery for veterans, that's a generational moonshot. and bringing that power of modern technology, design and data to congress is what the congressional digital service is all about and what our group is working on right over here. >> host: so what are some of the ideas that were thrown out? >> guest: constituent engagement is the biggest one, how do we meaningfully engage at scale when members of congress originally had 29,000 constituents when our country was founded and now we have 755,000 in each district. that's a mind-blowing change of
scale. you need a team to work on it every single day. staff are busy, members are busy, institutional technologists are busy just keeping the dike plugged, if you will. so we need a team of dreamers, engineers, designers who are focused on these moonshots every day, and that's what our group's been talking about. >> host: and, mr. kraft, what is the opengov foundation? >> guest: a nonprofit dedicating to those who serve the people in america's legislatures. we do congressional hackathons, but every day. >> also virtual worlds in which, you know, conference could -- you could bring people in, things like that. i think you have to think in a big way to overcome this trust problem. it's not going to be incremental steps. it will take a moonshot, but it can be facilitated by, you know, by technology. >> i'd like to point something out, and i don't mean to tie it to relevant news of the day, but
matt lauer came of age during a time when you could become a household name. and the reason i'm bringing this up is we're not going to have household names anymore. it's hard to make new ones. and if you think about congress in comparison to the executive branch, congress has branch offices in every community basically in the country. it is set up and mirrored in a decentralized way like the internet is. and if you add in block chain and some other advances that are coming online, i'm bringing up block chain in a sense was i think -- because i think if congress skips a generation, we're in the moonshot, so i feel like i can say this. we can have direct relationships with our communities, and we could see in the next ten years and hopefully in our lifetimes congress acting as a thing that we actually all probably think it is when we're in social studies, but we're all
represented by these people and by this body. it hasn't been this way during the era of broadcast media. if you look at the press conference, they were talking to us, and then we would write in through these broken things. we now have infrastructure that has never really been before possible in democracy to be able to have this communication happen. so i don't want to just push block chain as a possibility here, but the good news is i think that this body more than anything else is set up to realize the present and the future. so that's my little speech. >> host: thank you for taking time on your day to participate in this hackathon. there's just so much that's going on whether it's social media, whether it's how we make legislation accessible and have people track that legislation in realtime, it's vitally important. how we can bring data and have
data drive our decision making, not just have it be political. these are all important things you're doing, so thank you very much. >> thank you. >> can i ask a question? >> yeah. >> what is the -- [inaudible] everyone has different things that create problems. when you're trying to do your job, what's the biggest pain point that you're running into when you're trying to deal with all this stuff? >> well -- >> from a process perspective, not -- >> okay. i'm thinking about, i'm thinking of technology right now. >> yeah. >> so what frustrates me is i have my two phones here, i just switched to the x and rying to learn that. -- trying to learn that. but often when i go to my office desktop computer and i try to use it, there's a time suck factor of about 20-30 minutes because every quarter they change the password, and i don't know what it is. and i have to call the chief, ad
figure it out. that's a pain point for me, to get into the system. and then on my government cell phone when i'm trying to get through to my schedule, there's also a reset. and i'm not -- it seems to me there's not always a rhyme or reason to when that reset happens. it's supposed to happen every quarter. suddenly it's asking me for a verification, and i'm not always sure what that is. >> do you use a password manager? i know you can't use it for your your -- >> i do have a password manager that i somewhat understand, kind of in the apple universe. it connects both my laptop, my apple phones and the tablet. >> yeah. >> but, so i was resistant to apple. i didn't do apple until i got here, and i was hanging on to my own destroyed phone.
and the -- droid would collapse in the middle of meetings. it would just make that droid sound, and it was a topic of derision with my staff. pardon me? >> don't get your own personal private e-mail servers. [laughter] >> and let's clarify that no classified -- i'm talking to c-span -- [laughter] no classified information is on our congressional server. we turn in our phones when we go into the classified meetings. >> if you'd like to see more of c-span's "communicators" programs, go to c-span.org and look under the series link on the home page. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington, d.c. and
around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> coming up in about a half hour here on crushes span 2, a -- c-span2, a consideration on the recent summit between north and south korea and a look ahead at the planned meeting between president trump and north korean dictator kim jong un. that starts at nine a.m. eastern. you can see it live when it gets under way here on c-span2. >> the new japanese ambassador to the u.s. spoke at a conference on security in asia last week, touching on his country's 70-year alliance with the u.s., north korea's nuclear program and president trump's plan to meet with north korean be dictator kim jong un. [inaudible conversations]